Racing games on mobile platforms can be a bit of a mixed bag. Between the abuse of IAPs and the finicky nature of tilt and touch controls alone, it’s hard to really find a good racer these days. 2K Drive ($6.99) is aiming high, attempting to take the throne from Real Racing 3 in the realm of more simulation-style racers, and in the process, it’s a solid addition to the mobile racing genre.
At first, 2K Drive feels like it controls rather sluggishly. But that’s because as a general rule, the game slaps on a ton of limiters and control corrections to limit your movement. Once you dive into the game’s menu screen however and turn auto-braking and turn correction off, change the tilt (or virtual button) scheme to your liking, and change your sensitivity, it actually controls quite well. Add on the practically hidden option to use the handbrake by sliding the virtual break button and shifting gears and you have a winner.
Real licensed cars help make the experience even more enjoyable, as do realistic damage and motion physics. As a side note, I tested the game on an iPad Mini and an iPhone 5, and I’d highly recommend the former as 2K Drive is incredibly hard to navigate and control with less screen real estate.
So what can you actually do in 2K Drive? Well, the core modes are Championships, Daily Challenges, and other unique races like rally courses. Championship mode is the crux of the game, tasking you with performing certain parameters like outrunning helicopters, passing a certain amount of cars in a specific time frame, or winning old fashioned races. These are generally pretty fresh and fun to play, as 2K Drive rarely gives you a boring level, and most of them can be completed in short satisfying spurts. As you progress you’ll unlock new challenges, as well as level up your driving score and earn stars and coins (more on these in a minute).
Multiplayer does exist, but it’s an asynchronous affair that doesn’t amount to much more than interactive challenges. You can take a picture of yourself and implant it into the game as an avatar which is a neat touch, but ultimately I stuck to the game’s other modes instead. Still, the multiplayer challenges are even more races that you can choose to do outside of the Championship, and you can earn a pretty penny by doing them.
Customization is king in 2K Drive, as you have the option to change just about every facet of your racing experience. Whether that’s a new paint job or even hood ornaments for your first-person behind-the-wheel view is up to you, just know that it’s going to cost you quite a bit of currency to do so.
So about that currency: there’s been a lot of conflicting reports as to whether or not 2K Drive is a freemium game. Well, it is, and it isn’t. The game does have timers, but they are not hard timers. As you drive a particular car, it wears down — like a piece of equipment in an RPG. When it gets to a certain point, you need to repair it with star currency before you can race it. It sounds terrible right?
Except I never had to “wait" at any point, because the game doles out so many stars, especially if you win. While the star cost could have been astronomical for repairs to entice people to pay out their ears, it’s actually pretty fair, and all you have to do to avoid timers is keep racing, and earning stars — that’s it. Once you have a few cars under your belt you probably won’t even notice it. In fact, I had such an over-abundance of stars that I could use a one-time boost every other race, still afford my repairs, and bank a decent amount in general.
The other potential freemium trap is locked content. You start with enough coins to buy one car, then eventually earn more — but if you want, you can pay for coins and get them right away. This actually didn’t bother me too much, because I only had to play for roughly an hour to earn enough coins to buy the third best car in the entire game. Once again, like earning stars to repair your car, if you keep playing, you will keep earning. You can also pay $9.99 on top of the entry fee to unlock practically everything on offer right now if you want. The IAPs are obtrusive, but if you actually race consistently rather than stare at them, you’ll earn enough to avoid them.
At the end of the day, despite having to wade through some arguably murky IAP waters, 2K Drive is a ton of fun. It would have been a much stronger experience if it was just a premium game out of the gate, but despite a ton of confusion as to how you’re supposed to actually unlock all the content, racing fans will most likely enjoy it.